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Friday, July 13, 2007

A Sad Day in Neopia

Back in the day, I was a pretty big Neopets fan. They had a great collection of casual games with almost no advertising (just a sponsored game or two). It was fun to accumulate Neopoints and the devs were always adding new games, items and features, as well as running world-wide events that actually had an impact on the game world. And if you think the games are just for children try to beat Better than You just one time.

So I was sorry to hear that Neopets is joining the ever growing ranks of online worlds which charge real cash for virtual items with their new NC mall. You can read more about it here on one disgruntled user's page. Basically this means that instead of earning items by playing games or running a business you can just buy your accomplishments with real money.

Now, Neopets probably lost it's way long before this. All I ever read about these days in terms of child friendly online spaces is Club Penguin. And every child I talk to is incredibly obsessed with Webkinz.

I think part of the problem was that users didn't feel enough of a connection to their avatar. In some games you were playing against your pet, in some you were playing as your pet, in others you were playing as yourself. There was a consistency lacking in this regard and the one place where your pet had a direct multiplayer experience, the battledome, was pretty awful. Neopets also failed to update their older games. The painful wait between turns in otherwise great games like Cheat and Pyramids was bearable years ago. But now we expect some minimum level of speed from our games, rendering some of the older games basically unplayable.

But still, I always checked back in on my sadly starving pets and six figure NP bankroll every few months. The site was quite enjoyable and the new games were always fun. The Altador Cup was another great example of how to run a good online event. But now logging in just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

To argue against myself, the site has become plagued with advertising since the old days. There's nothing completely offensive like pop-ups, but compared to the golden ad-free days, the banner ads, keyword ads and large ads on the right-hand side of the page are rough going. So you might argue that if Neopets had gone the RMT route earlier, we would have been spared the advertising. But I believe that we would have just had both anyway.

I realize Viacom is a business, and I understand their desire to profit as much as possible from the Neopets user base. And I realize that everyone is doing it, so why shouldn't Neopets?

But it still saddens me. I always thought that when I had a son or daughter old enough I would introduce them to Neopets. There are educational games and I think all of the games teach some skills. But more importantly, I thought Neopets was a fun way to learn things you just don't learn in school. It taught you about personal finance: how to budget your money and not splurge on things you can't afford; how saving is important (the Neopian Bank pays interest); how slowly working your funds up day by day is better in the end then gambling (you end up earning more playing games then gambling your money away on the slots); and the value of entrepreneurship (starting your own store).

But now all Neopets teaches is how to convince your parents to give you their credit-card number so you can just have whatever you want whenever you want it. I'll skip that lesson.